Two men sentenced in attack on Bay Area Sikh man

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KTVU) -- Two men were sentenced Thursday to three year-prison terms for assaulting a Sikh man in Northern California and admitting to hate crimes.

Colton Leblanc and Chase Little, of Beaumont, Texas, on Thursday each pleaded no contest to assault with a hate crime enhancement in connection with the Sept. 25, 2016 attack on Maan Singh Khalsa.

Khalsa was dressed in traditional Sikh clothes driving to a religious ceremony in Richmond. He was attacked near the Hilltop Mall at Blume and Hilltop Drive around 9 p.m. and told police that a white Ford F-150 with several men pulled up to his vehicle and someone in the vehicle threw a half-full beer can at his car.

Leblanc and Little then jumped out the truck and punched Khalsa numerous times through an open window, authorities have said. 

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The man's turban was knocked off of his head and the men cut Khalsa's hair with a knife. The Sikh religion considers unshorn hair sacred. His finger also had to be amputated after the attack.

The  crime had a deep effect on the Sikh community.

"To have this happen to a member of our congregation was deeply upsetting and it happened five minuts away from our house of worship," said Satinder Malhi of the Sikh Coalition of El Sobrante

After the sentencing, Khalsa addressed his attackers in court.

"The recognition of the attack as a hate crime – as harm to my dignity and my entire community – is the first step in the process," he said. "I still consider you my brothers, and I hope that you will learn about me and my community, and one day consider me your brother, too."

"His appreciation of a larger message that could come from this case was heartfelt and dignified," said Simon O'Connell, a Contra Costa County deputy district attorney.

Several groups had urged prosecutors to file hate crime charges against the suspects, including the Sikh Coalition, community leaders, and a coalition of civil rights organizations.

"The attack upon Mr. Khalsa based upon his perceived religion and identity is an attack upon us all," O'Connell said. "As a community we must do better and it is my hope that today's sentence moves us further in that direction."

Those from the Sikh Coalition of El Sobrante where Khalsa is a member, said  they were pleased with the outcome of the case.

"We believe that in order to combat hate you first need to recognize it and today's verdict is a first step in doing just that," Malhi said.

Khalsa told the prosecutor he wasn't looking for especially harsh penalties against his attackers, but that he wanted to raise awareness about hate crimes.

By KTVU reporter Rob Roth. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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